Jonathan Ord and Brad Perry, a couple of finance-industry guys with a bent toward technology, 16 years ago founded DealerSocket, a customer-relationship-management software company, after they worked at a dealership to get a sense of that business.
The two Brigham Young University alumni worked for free. “That way, they couldn’t fire us,” Ord says.
Perry stays at DealerSocket as chief product officer. But Ord turns the president and CEO reins over to Sejal Pietrzak, a hand-picked successor.
Ord remains involved with the San Clemente, CA-company, which has picked up private-investment stakeholders along the way. He is actively investing, so his move is not called a retirement.
“After 16 years, he just decided he’s ready for the next chapter in his life, and wants to spend more time with his wife and six children and participate in entrepreneurial pursuits,” says a spokesperson.
Pietrzak joined DealerSocket after serving as chief administrative officer at ACTIVE Network, a software provider specializing in online activities-oriented registrations (from Iron Man contests to hunting and fishing licenses), database management and business intelligence.
Ord says, “My interactions with Sejal have made it abundantly clear to me that she is the right CEO moving forward, as DealerSocket continues to scale and innovate.”
She was born in Royal Oak, MI, and grew up primarily in New Jersey. She holds an international-studies degree from William and Mary in Virginia and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
She is a software veteran with international experience. That could mean DealerSocket will expand beyond the U.S. and Australia, where it now does business with 11,000 dealer clients.
In a WardsAuto Q&A, she talks among other things about the direction she sees DealerSocket headed, whether it will go global and her “love” of software. Here’s an edited version.
WardsAuto: What qualities do you have that made Jonathan Ord pick you for the CEO job?
Pietrzak: We started talking about him thinking about transitioning and then the areas of the business I could help with. We talked a lot about customer-first operational excellence and the fast growth DealerSocket has seen, and how I had come from a company that saw similar growth and was able to successfully expand our business. We talked a lot about talent management. I think I convinced him I would be a good replacement for him and keep his company in good hands.
WardsAuto: Is it a tough order to succeed the founder of a company? What’s that like?
Pietrzak: First and foremost, I love software. You have a company that has built best-in-class products. Jumping into this role was a lot more natural than I thought it would be. Jonathan has been incredible to work with throughout this transition. He’s been a huge supporter. He’s been a strategic investor and a great strategic partner. He’s still very much involved
WardsAuto: Couldn’t the founder hanging around present its own set of problems for an incoming CEO?
Pietrzak: His continued involvement actually has been welcomed by me.
WardsAuto: Has he given you any piece of advice that resonates?
Pietrzak: He has a great love for the industry, his customers and his people. He built the company on that. As far as him giving me advice, it has revolved around me asking questions and him giving great historical understanding of what the industry is.
WardsAuto: Where do you see DealerSocket in five years or so?
Pietrzak: That’s a good question. We will continue in our vision of creating best-in-class software to support the industry and our dealers as the industry continues to grow and evolve. Over the next five years, I expect us to grow not only in our core products but also in technology that allows consumers and dealers to work together in a seamless way online and offline.
Also, as the industry moves towards digital retail, we want to be a part of that.
WardsAuto: Do you envision a time in the near future when people would buy cars completely online, with the exception perhaps of having to do some necessary in-person paperwork? Or would that appeal to only a certain group of people?
Pietrzak: I don’t know that I know enough at this point, as I’m learning about the industry, to say definitely where it’s going in that regard. I don’t know what percentage of consumers would (buy a car completely online). But the industry is moving in the direction of making that possible.
WardsAuto: There are a lot of people who consider themselves industry experts predicting the future, and one wonders if they are right. The future if you get too far out is hard to predict, especially when you don’t know what imponderables are out there, and those could include technology breakthroughs.
Pietrzak: I completely agree with you.
WardsAuto: What have you learned about DealerSocket since you’ve been there? Any surprises?
Pietrzak: I’ve learned that I’ve inherited an incredible team with loyalty and passion. It’s unmatched. Phenomenal. I didn’t know what to expect. But I love software and love how much dealerships embrace software. I’ve spent a lot of time with clients over the last eight weeks and found a lot of excitement about technologies that can help dealerships reduce expenses and sell more cars. It’s a market where they want new technology and innovation. That’s always fantastic. The last two months have been incredibly positive.
WardsAuto: Have you been doing a lot of traveling?
Pietrzak: I have. Sometimes, I wake up in the hotel room and have to remember which city I’m in.
WardsAuto: You’ve mentioned twice that you love software. What do you love about it and why?
Pietrzak: I love efficiency and operational excellence. I love that software automates processes that would otherwise be manual, allows innovation and allows us to think about where we are going – in anything in life. I love how software can give us exponential growth and make us so much more effective and productive and make the user experience delightful. It helps businesses, families, individuals and communities.
WardsAuto: I remember as a college student in the pre-software days that when you registered for classes you waited for hours in a line that went across the room, down the stairs and out the building. You waited for hours, sometimes to find out the class you wanted was full. Now, students register online in minutes.
Pietrzak: Oh my goodness, I completely agree.
WardsAuto: At one point, you ran the international unit of ACTIVE Network and mentioned that one of the things about you that appealed to Jonathan was your international experience. Is that an indication DealerSocket will be more involved globally?
Pietrzak: We’re looking at it as part of our longer-term strategies. It’s definitely a possibility as we look at where we will continue to expand and grow. It’s something that has been discussed but not yet decided.